Imedi TV in Georgia Shut Down Amid Political Crisis Imedi TV in Tbilisi, Georgia was shut down by Special Forces this week during the state of emergency brought on by Georgia's current political crisis. Lewis Robertson, chief operating officer of the station, describes the situation.
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Imedi TV in Georgia Shut Down Amid Political Crisis

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Imedi TV in Georgia Shut Down Amid Political Crisis

Imedi TV in Georgia Shut Down Amid Political Crisis

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

A main target of the crackdown is broadcaster Imedi Television. Police stormed the station Wednesday. Imedi TV and its main owner are now the subjects of criminal investigations. Imedi's CEO, Lewis Robertson, an American, says the station has become the most trusted in Georgia in the less than five years it's been on.

LEWIS ROBERTSON: In a very short period of time, it has earned the trust of all the Georgians in this country, and that's more important for us than ratings and shares and all that, although we are a dominant television station.

HANSEN: At 9 o'clock on Wednesday night, Imedi Television went off the air in the middle of a live broadcast. And this is what it sounded like. The translation is provided by the Russian-English language channel, Russia Today.

(SOUNDBITE OF RECORDED BROADCAST)

HANSEN: (Through translator) We are in a very difficult situation. We are not warned that police will come into the building. By closing the channel, the government is violating the constitution. This means that this is a dictatorship regime. I address to all organizations and embassies to protect the citizens. Here they are, coming into the studio. I want to say thank you. I hear a shout in the control room. I hope our employees won't be injured. Here are our guests.

HANSEN: And those so-called guests were presumably the Georgian Special Forces. Mr. Robertson, what happened next?

ROBERTSON: Approximately, 200, 250 special forces entered the television station with machine guns and black masks (unintelligible) with their faces and they rounded everyone up. And many people were told to get on the floor, including one of our reporters who is nine months pregnant. And she was ordered to get on the floor, and they put a gun to her, and they put a gun to the other people that were on the floor. Everybody was told to sit down, be quiet, to give up their cell phones. After half an hour, everyone was, not asked but ordered, to leave the television station.

HANSEN: What happened to you in particular? What happened to you inside the station?

ROBERTSON: Well, what happened to me is - once we walked back into where our control rooms are, and the control rooms have been totally demolished. Video tape equipment and - have been destroyed. We are off the air. But it is our intent to get back on the air just as soon as we possibly can do that.

HANSEN: And you'll have to replace all your equipment.

ROBERTSON: Yeah. And truthfully, I don't care about the equipment. But what I care about is all the people and all of our employees that have been psychologically damaged and scarred by this. These are very young reporters, mid-20s to late 20s. And I saw terror in their faces on Wednesday night, tears and screaming and shaking. And these guys are very good at what they do in terms of intimidating people. And they come there with overwhelming force. And that's how they are trained, but it is not something that you would want to experience yourself. I can tell you that.

HANSEN: Are you concerned for your safety at all?

ROBERTSON: If I said no, I'd be lying to you, yeah. I'm concerned. My wife is very concerned, my two children. Look, I don't want to be a hero. But at the same time, I'm not going to walk away and let these guys run over us. I'm not afraid of them. I think their opinion is wrong. But I want to make sure that we are given the opportunity to do what we do and that's do television in a way that we think is in the best interest of democracy and freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

HANSEN: Thank you so much.

ROBERTSON: My pleasure. Thank you.

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